Cheap video equipment for sketches and short films

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Over the past few months I’ve been working on ideas for sketches and short movies. Radio is great and all, but the audience for radio comedy is limited and for radio drama, practically non-existent. With that in mind, I’ve been developing some scripts and shooting a couple of test shorts – one of which has made it out into the wild. I’m lucky enough to have some extremely talented friends who’ve amassed cameras, lights and sound equipment and aren’t afraid to use them. That said, I always feel nervous using other folks equipment – if it breaks I’ll have to replace it, and feel awful, and I still won’t have my own camera. Plus, you always learn more when using (and having to pick) your own equipment.

After a few months of ferocious poverty, I’ll soon have a trickle of cash coming in from my latest drama series for Newstalk (more to follow on that, mucho excited). Now’s the time to pick up some very basic video recording equipment. Ideally I’m looking for an easy to use setup that has non-awful picture quality, steady shots, usable battery life, and decently long recording time. Since we’ll be recording sketches, it needs to work in ‘low light’ (in other words, inside a normal house, without additional lighting). And since I work in ‘the arts’ I can’t spent too much on the whole dealio. After buying a bunch of crap over the years I’ve figured out two things 1) you really need to try before you buy, or failing that ask people who regularly use the same stuff 2) the ‘best’ equipment is the equipment you can best use, not what can theoretically do the most in perfect conditions in the hands of an expert. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat around on film sets while the DOP fussed with a camera and the light died – complex camera setups make simple things very much harder and longer to make.

I already have a decent sound recorder (the Zoom H6) and mic (Rode NTG2) , which I use for radio work. I also own a cheap DSLR I picked up in the states a couple of years ago – the Canon Rebel T4i (known in Europe as the 650D). Right now I only have the ‘kit lens’ it comes with, which sucks for video, especially in low light. The Canon has a whole bunch of limitations. It doesn’t like to record for more than about ten minutes at a go. The battery dies after maybe 30 minutes of video. It’s slow to focus, even with a good lens. And it’s relatively complicated to use. So here are the options I considered.

Options

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1) GoPro Hero 4 Black
+ cheap steady rig available
+ lots of shooting possibilities due to tiny size / simplicity
+ tiny and easily set up
+ up to 2 or 3 hours battery life
+ numerous accessories (e.g.: batteries, mounts, mic inputs, super long 12 hour batteries)
– really expensive, distortion needs to be corrected in software
– video is washed out

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2) Better video equipment for the Canon – a better film lens, better memory card, longer lasting batteries, and a cheap ‘steadicam’
+ by far the best video quality
+ cheap batteries and lenses available
+ cheap steady rigs available
– much more complicated use
– slow to focus
– limited shot length before overheating / hitting the camera’s file size limit
– good lenses are expensive

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3) A point and shoot camera or camcorder
+ reasonable image quality
+ relatively inexpensive
+ really easy to use
+ reasonable sound in the camera
– point and shoots have very low battery life
– difficult to steady
– looks like video
– difficult to import video for editing

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4) A cheap android phone with a good camera
+ cheapish
+ also a phone
– limited memory (32 gig max)
– shooting a lot could wear out the phone
– battery life
– cameras aren’t good until you hit a pretty pricey phone
– phones break, crash, and get grumpy when wet.

After chatting with a bunch of friends, including camera geeks and comedians who regularly shoot sketches and shorts, this is what I’ve decided to pick up.

What to buy

1 * Sony HDR-CX405 camcorder – 215.00
– This tiny camcorder seems to work unusually well in low light, gets a couple of hours video on one battery, it can transfer video via wifi, and has very good depth of focus and good onboard sound. Hopefully it’ll be perfect for simple sketches.

1 * Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens – 134.00
– This ‘nifty fifty’ lens has a really low f.stop, which the camera geeks assure me means it’s great for low light. It’s also got a quiet STM motor, for less jarring and noisy focusing. It’ll help me learn to shoot video better on the DSLR, and perhaps be good enough for making shorts – although issues with staying in focus, and more complex setup means we’ll probably not use it for sketches, at least at first.

2 * replacement T4i batteries – 20.00
– Cheap, if slightly dodgy batteries should greatly extend recording time on the Canon.

1 * 64GB Class 10 SD card – 35.00
– A cheap if slightly low spec memory card. Should be fast enough for video recording on both the Sony camcorder and the Canon camera.

1 * low cost steady cam rig – 100.00
– This ultra cheap steady cam thingamejig is a little bulkier and heavier than I’d like, but it should work with both the camera and camcorder, and let us do handheld shots without too much horrific shakiness.

Thanks

Thanks to Sean Burke, Seb Dooris, Shane Conneely and Orla McNelis for all the advice.

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Meeting Jesus at the Movies – Culture File

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Every few years hollywood is shocked by an utterly predictable success. Some startling maverick producer actually markets a movie to an underserved audience. The flick makes major bank, and a mad scramble begins, as studios line up to cash in. Five years ago it was the grey dollar, as the critically acclaimed Kings Speech dragged in sexagenarians who’d drifted away from the action packed vacuity of the block buster era. Our screens are still filled with it’s predictable follow ups, from Cannes darling Amour to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Five years before that it was kids movies; as a series of franchises, from Harry Potter to Spy Kids proved that tweens had a powerful grip on mammy and daddy’s credit card. Now another, arguably more sinister trend has taken hold, as Hollywood seeks to cash in on a long ignored and even disdained audience. Mel Gibson might be persona non grata, but his 2004 spatterfest The Passion of the Christ nailed a market so lucrative even progressive, secular Hollywood could no longer ignore it. Ever since, the Jeebus movie has edged towards becoming a box office mainstay. Contemporary Christian movies religiously follow a variety of tropes. They exist in a post racial America of prosperous, hard striving, counter-culturally embattled Christian families, whose faith sets them at odds with a world literally in thrall to the devil. Their production tends towards the almost pornographically chintzy, and they’re most often staffed from a self contained stable of avowedly Christian actors.

Most of these movies – like the flurry of wide release Bollywood flicks current aimed at the Indian diaspora – appeal exclusively to their target audience. But breakout hits like this years ‘War Room’ prove that even ‘the lost’ (as evangelicals refer to their secular brethren) are no longer allergic to holy fluff. ‘War Room’ depicts a particularly pentecostal version of Christianity, in which the almighty can be compelled to intervene in ones career and marriage, but only if the lowly penitent rolls up her sleeves and really squeezes out an old prayer. This world view, with it’s sinister implication that misfortune is the deserved result of insufficient faith, ties into the evangelical belief that prayer is a weapon of mass demonic destruction. To a conservative America, still in the grip of a variety of wars on abstract concepts, from terrorism to the gay agenda, the idea holds a powerful appeal. To this view, the social ills of our time are not so much the result of economic inequality, or a history of prejudice, as the active intervention of Satan and his minions. The heavens fight a proxy war on earth, intervening in daily life for good or ill, much like the Gods of the Greek pantheon. With mortals as their emissaries, empowered to perform magic, good and evil battle in our daily lives.

The War Room’s setup exemplifies this narrative. An elderly magical black woman ‘Miss Clara’, played by Karen Abercrombie, helps repair the failing marriage of a wealthy couple, by her ‘war room’, essentially a closet full of prayer paraphernalia. Making her own Christ closet enables the young wife Elizabeth (played by Priscilla Shirer) to battle the demons threatening her marriage. Notable incidents in the film include a mugger fleeing, after a verbal slap down, ‘in the name of jesus’, and a alluring temptress defeated from afar by the power of prayer.

Producers, the Kendrick brothers, have created a slew of ‘educational materials’, to accompany the film. This merch includes a bible study kit, a branded teen prayer journal, the original War Room novel and a ‘battle plan for prayer’ which exhorts the reader to build a magic prayer room of their very own. This rather lucrative package, marketed directly to evangelical churches, along with suggestions to block book tickets, invites comparisons to George Lucas’s galactic scale entrepreneurship.

Fireproof, The highest grossing independent film of 2008, set the kindling to the current round of Christian flicks. The film – which in a deeply Freudian moment begins with a small child asking her mother if she can marry her father, is a romantic fantasy in which an inattentive fireman follows a forty step programme encouraging him to smash his porn riddled computer, and love his cheating wife unconditionally.

Despite their increasing ambition, relatively high budget Jeebus movies are not yet guaranteed success. The formula to reach a wider audience seems to require an Oprah style appeal to the power of positive thinking. ‘Yellow Day’, which opened to minute box office last month, features a glossy combination of animation and live action. The film imagines a kids camp where once a year on the mysterious ‘Yellow Day’ God ‘bestows incredible visions and miracles’ on the faithful, like a narcissistic santa claus. Perhaps the movies failure lies in it’s emphasise on the more feverish, fantastical aspects of evangelicalism.

Last years creepy ‘Heaven is for real’, recounted the story of a four year old boy who has a near death vision of heaven. This trip includes meeting Jesus riding a rainbow coloured stallion, and hanging out with his own miscarried sister. The film based on a purportedly non-fiction new york times best seller, as been labelled ‘heaven tourism’. Its 12 million dollar budget (huge in Christian cinema terms), grossed over 100, 000, 000 world wide. Heaven is for real doubtless owes part of its success to its promotion by media titan, Sony Pictures. Signalling increased investment in the segment by mainstream studios. But also to it’s marketing as a chilling M Night Shyamalan style mystery.

Whats concerning about the rise of such films is not their proselytisation of a belief system, but rather their sanctification of prosperity, their replacement of the vacuity of consumerism, with a kind of sinister conformity – predicated on a just world in which pain proceeds according to a plan. If there is a more malicious machine than the cynical dream factory of hollywood, it’s the the Christian Industrial complex. A hope franchise, with thousands of branches, that ensures capitalist conformity across the economically blighted flyover states. The evangelical block, wilfully courted by post Goldwater Republicans, upheld by Conservative Christian radio, televangelism, Christian publishers, Christian rock, and increasingly Jeebus movies, are selling a very particular kind of celluloid opium. One that appeals to the vulnerable, even as it forestalls any effort to challenge their circumstances.

Download: ‘Jeebus Movies’

For Heart & Breath – Culture File

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Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire fame is bringing a unique piece to the Aula Maxima at UCC this evening. In collaboration with physiologist Professor Ken O’Halloran, and neuroscientist Professor John Cryan, he’ll be performing a piece called ‘For Heart & Breath‘. Released as an album last year, in live performance the piece relies on measures the breath and heartbeats of its performers to create a feedback loop of performance and appreciation. I headed down to UCC to speak with professor Ken O’Halloran about music, physiology and the often surprising links between art and science, breath and brain.

Download: ‘For Heart & Breath’

Immersive VR Education – Culture File

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A few months ago, Irish company Immersive VR education ran a successful kickstarter to create a virtual reality simulation of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon. Put like that it sound kind unbelievable – we actually built a craft that travelled to the moon! Sure, we haven’t gone back in forty three years, but it’s damned impressive all the same.

If you’re lucky enough to own one of the oculus rift developer kits (consumer versions still haven’t hit the market), you can download a demo of the experience at Immersive VR’s site.

I sat down with Immersive’s founder David Whelan to try out this epic voyage, all from the comfort of a swivel chair in his Waterford based home office.

Download: ‘Immersive VR Education’

Virtual Insanity – Trying Out The Oculus Rift

Jacked in to the Riftrix
Jacked in to the Riftrix

Ever since John Carmack, space entrepreneur and creator of classic games like Doom, Quake and Commander Keen, demonstrated an early prototype of the Oculus Rift at E3 last year, I’ve been keenly following the development of the technology. Palmer Luckey, a twenty year old kid working at USC Institute of Creative Technology, made a momentous impact with the Kickstarter for his new company’s very early prototype. What differentiates the Rift from three decades of virtual reality research and gaming devices is low latency head tracking, high FOV (meaning the visible area covers pretty much your whole field of view), low weight and most importantly low cost (leveraging the economies of scale that have made mobile phone displays cheap, plentiful and high resolution).

Reddit user illobo was kind enough to demo his Rift units at A4 Sounds Collective Art Studios in Dublin yesterday. Alongside his rift units, illobo brought along a Razer Hydra, which uses a magnetic field to track the motion of two hand-held joypad devices.

On the day, we tried a variety of demos including: Tuscany, Blue Marble, Team Fortress 2, Unity Roller Coaster, Titans of Space, and Proton Pulse (a 3D pong clone).

Irish VR community!
Irish VR community!

In terms of the experience… The unit itself is still very early hardware. The resolution is disappointingly low (resembling an early 90’s VGA display), and the ‘screen door‘ effect (which means that gaps are visible in between individual pixels) is extremely noticeable, as is motion blur when you move your head. It’s also very sensitive to using exactly the right lenses (the unit comes with three interchangeable sets of lenses), and presumably interpupillary distance settings too. So for example the first time I put the headset on my field of view was limited and the 3D didn’t quite work, because I was using it without my glasses (I have an astigmatism in one eye). However once I tried it with glasses (which was quite painful actually, as it really jams them into your face, and my glasses are not particularly big) it was a whole different experience. The 3D effect really is amazing, as is looking around you… You have to train yourself to remember you can see more than just what’s right in front of you – it’s a distinctly different feeling to looking with a mouse or joypad. This is real 3D, not the puppet show planes of 3D cinema / TV or even the pseudo depth of a Nintendo 3DS. When it works, you’re there, in a fully realised alien space.

The Rift’s lack of positional tracking was much less of a problem that I would have expected, the head / neck software modelling in the rift driver is really good. Picking things off the floor in Tuscany with the Hydra was very strange however… You really do need to crouch down and pick them up off the floor, with your waxy lady-like virtual hands.

Struggling with the Hydra
Struggling with the Hydra

I found Hydra Tuscany, Roller Coaster, and Proton Pulse the most convincing demos. The Razer Hydra, or something like it, really is a necessity, although the hydra itself is much less impressive than I expected. The Razer’s relatively slow and inexact hand tracking kept losing focus and ending up with my hands in the wrong orientation, which feels a little like realising you’ve just painlessly broken both your arms. The demo has integrated physics, but I found it’s quite difficult to throw things in Tuscany, certainly on first try, as you really need to throw just as you would in real life – which has practical implications when you’re in front of a desk / monitor / hydra base station etc!

Proton Pulse is immensely fun, and brought home that very alien / digital environments might actually be more immersive, as they hide the limitations of the resolution. The neon glowscape of the play space made me feel like I’d stepped into Tron or The Lawnmower Man. I’m really looking forward to trying Proteus / Dear Esther and similar games on the Rift.

I played a bit of Valve Software’s incredibly popular Team Fortress 2 which demonstrated an amazing sense of scale. It’s not a game I enjoy very much in 2D, but it was far more fun in 3D; and you really could have quite the competitive advantage (given your increased peripheral vision, and the separation of look / aim, which felt immediately natural). Once I found the WSAD keys I was flying – although some means of running a video feed through the Rift to help you locate your keyboard would be enormously helpful.

Something tells me ‘games’ on the Rift might be less fun, at least initially, than ‘experiences’ which play on vertigo, the sense of scale, the size of your body, flying, looking at yourself in a mirror, that kind of thing. I’m looking at you Volo Airsport!

I also played the Aurora Borealis demo, which though an interesting experiment, I found quite two dimensional and unimpressive, but others found genuinely immersive – presumably due to it’s real world setting. Oddly, the demo that most impressed folks at the demo (which I didn’t try) was City Quest where you just sit in an ordinary bedroom, playing an old school 2D point and click adventure game on a virtual computer.

The Rift is, as expected, very very addictive. illobo pretty much had to peel it off attendee’s faces towards the end. I heard numerous folks say – ‘I could live here’. Which is of course quite creepy to hear from someone with an enormous hunk of plastic strapped to their head.

Lots of people experienced mild nausea. I had absolutely none for some reason (perhaps because of my astigmatism?). But I really wanted to stand up and physically walk around. I can definitely see why people are buying those absurd virtual treadmills. The Rift / Hydra cables are quite distracting too. We were sitting in swivel chairs and you’d take off the Rift and discover you’d swiveled feet away from the table and faced the wrong way. Use a fixed chair when you try it first time!

‘Immersion’ really varied. I’d say I found it impressive, but I never felt like I was in another world. One or two folks at the demo had to rip the Rift off their head, so freaked out were they by the eeriness of being somewhere else. That said, the graphics hardware we were running off really wasn’t powerful enough (two units, one on Macbook pro, and one on Macbook air, running windows off an external HD) and that definitely impacted frame rate. Especially in some more demanding demos like Spacewalk.

In summary – I wouldn’t buy one just yet, since the resolution is so low (and because I don’t have a decent gaming PC). However, I would definitely love to pick up the HD consumer version, and I’d jump at the chance to try another demo. After we’d all had a several turns we felt like we’d experienced something momentous, some hint of a future both wonderful and terrible. I kept thinking about children, raised in the Rift and its descendants, their eyes blurring to mundane reality, itchy every moment IRL to return to the calm, safe dreamworld of the game.

Virtual Twins
Virtual Twins

Disappearing Future

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After re-listening to many of the excellent podcasts from 2005’s Accelerating Change conference, available from IT conversations; I got a hankering to read Charlie Stross’s highly recommended, and Hugo award nominated, post singularity novel Accelerando. The book is available to download under a Creative Commons license. Or rather, the book was available for download. Accellerando.org is down, and although the site itself can be accessed for now via Google’s cache, the PDF of Stross’s novel is unavailable. So too is the site which originally seeded the novels torrent, and the torrent itself. Cue whaling and gnashing of teeth re: the unsustainability of torrents.

Bittorrent, a protocol which provides an excellent method of ‘appropriating’ the latest episode of Lost, sans advertisements direct from the USA, is rather unsuited to maintaining the availability of media on the long tail. A naive, non programmer’s explanation of why this is the case follows… For a file to be available to download via Bittorrent, at least one seeder must maintain availability of a complete copy, dynamically providing portions of the file to a potential downloading ‘swarm’. Additionally, for a file to be practically quick to download, pieces of it must be available from a wide range of sources (so that individual clients can trade them directly, greatly accelerating the process), and must additionally be listed on a Bittorrent tracker server, which brokers communications between clients, and between clients and seeder.

Dispersed hosting is a weakness and a strength of Bittorrent as a distribution medium. Say what you will about the printing press, it takes far longer for paper based novels to disappear completely than for their digital equivalents to become network isolated, or become unreadable due to the march of incompatibility.

There’s a lot of buzz right now about building Bittorrent (or torrent like) functionality into consumer devices, set top boxes and the like; and little awareness of the bandwidth costs that such distribution transfers to the end user.

There have been a variety of attempts to establish an open directory of Creative Commons works, but as of right now no exhaustive list exists, and existing search methodologies are ineffectual. This is not a criticism of CC per say, which I find both useful and commendable, both as a creator (almost without exception, everything on this site is made available under a creative commons license), and an ethical (sic) user, but rather of the assumption that the internet automagically provides publishing methodologies equivalent or superior to those of traditional media.

Right now, as far as I can tell, it is essentially impossible to find a (PDF) copy of Accelerando online, as far the the internet is concerned, the novel no longer exists. Similarly, the archive of episodes of Technolotics will effectively disappear forever in the ether, if I ever fail to pay a hosting bill (already rather overdue I’m afraid).

Update: After some further searching, I did manage to find a lone floating copy – download here – of Accelerando, which neatly solved my immediate problem. Astute readers will note that this doesn’t invalidate my original point. To ensure the novels continuing availability (I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume Accelerando.org’s servers have been consumed by some sort of singularity), I’m hosting the file myself. Download link, and copyright notice, after the break.

Download: Accelerando – by Charlie Stross.

This work is Copyright © Charles Stross, 2005.

This text of this novel is made available, with the kind consent of the publishers, under the terms of the Creative Commons deed, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5: You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work under the following conditions: Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

No Derivative Works. You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.

For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/legalcode If you are in doubt about any proposed reuse, you should contact the author via: http://www.accelerando.org/

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Gigabeat Apple At Their Own Game

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I don’t buy the argument the the iPod – iTunes packages own the digital market due to the wonderful convenience of the iTunes store. Yes iTunes is one of the major reasons for the iPod’s success. The same is not necessarily true of the iTunes store, at least not in Europe, where the store didn’t even open for a full year after the US version, long after iPod units began flying off the shelves in 2002.

Frankly, I don’t know anyone who buys music from the iTunes store, even now – perhaps because it’s far less common for Irish students to have credit cards, than their American contemporaries. Using the iTunes store has never made sense from a behavioral economics perspective; as purchasing a CD through Amazon or Cd Wow is just as easy, cheaper, and provides access to the original media to rip, mix, burn as much as desired. More importantly for students, CD’s (and Mp3’s) are much easier to share and borrow. 200 million songs sold in two years might seem like a lot, but it’s still a drop in the ocean next to the tracks purchased on CD and traded on file sharing networks.

The iTunes software is on the other hand, ubiquitously used to rip and burn CD’s, manage Mp3 / M4a collections, and most importantly to sync iPods. It’s this – the convenience and usability of the iTunes – iPod combination, that has given Apple such a lead. Hell, the store is a loss leader. Would this integration be so difficult to mimic?

How To Make A Real iPod Killer

Take a deep breath Toshiba, Creative, Archos, I’m about to describe how to become a real player in the portable media arena. All of this stuff has seemed blindingly obvious since the creative Nomad hit the streets, but apparently you’re not getting it.

1. Set a team of coders to fork, rebrand and make Windows compatible the Open Source (currently Linux only) media player Amarok. Amarok includes all of iTunes’ functionality and more, in an already easy to use and stable package.

2. By doing 1, you’ll harness the goodwill of the open source community, tech geeks and the blogging community; gaining the sort of free advertising and community support any company should dream of. More importantly, it will allow you to easily build in Firefox like extension support, something iTunes currently lacks (beyond limited, Mac only, Apple Scripts), limitlessly extending your players potential functionality.

3. Add, and heavily promote, better Podcasting support. Get Podcasters on board by promoting the indies rather than network tie ins, and build the functionality to painlessly sync with your software and device. Build support for cutting edge technologies like comment casting, and podcasting direct from the device via WiFi – finally providing a use for your devices built in microphone. Apple’s efforts in this area are the tip of iceberg of whats possible.

4. Establish ‘one click’ style relationships with Emusic (the second largest audio file retailer in the world after Apple), and smaller DRM free labels like Magnatune. By setting up relations with DRM free music stores you’ll establish substantial non-infringing uses for your device, which will protect you, at least in part, from the DMCA and the legal arms of the recording and film industries. Additionally, build support for data aggregation based suggestion streaming services like Last.fm and Pandora into your software, and directly into your player – this is an area that will explode as they become further integrated into mainstream social networking sites. You’ll build community around recommendations, and through canny deals, should be able to leverage a proportion of the referral cash such services no doubt receive from Amazon and the like.

5. Forgo upselling – make your new music player (which will have to be open source anyway) free of crappy attempts to sell your other products and other ‘branding exercises’. The player is the product, if it’s good enough the extras (in Apple’s case even whole computers) will sell themselves.

6. Release your hardware Mp3 & Movie player with a processor fast enough to scroll through media quickly (vitally important), but cool enough to fit into a form factor comparable to the next generation of iPod’s, which are predicted use smaller hard drives and have bigger screens. Include support for open source and commonly used compression codecs (and high resolutions, although HD is a bonus you can reserve for your devices second or third iterations if necessary) – e.g.: Ogg, Dirac, Mp3, Xvid, Divx. No need to reinvent the wheel, and no need to worry about DRM, see above re: podcasting support and fair use.

7. Include an intuitive interface, and as large a screen as possible – steal right, left, and center all the speculative ideas which have been suggested for a touch screen iPod (be wary of directly violating Apple patents). Take a leaf from Apple’s book, hire a design guru, someone with a deep understanding of usability and a original flair for design – I’d suggest Art Lebedev – and allow them the freedom to build an interface that makes the additional functionality you’re going to have over Apple, just work. Oh and let them mastermind the advertising too. Think of your lead designer as an interface auteur.

7. Include Zune style WiFi. Hint: This time allow DRM free sharing, and allow upload and download to the device from PC via WiFi. The tech is out there, both Archos and Toshiba already have products with similar functionality. Build in local streaming so users can man their own radio stations, complete with meta information, which will save a list of ‘recently overheard tracks’ on listeners players.

8. Test and refine your product. While Apple can get away with producing a device that dies after a year of heavy use, disconnects its battery cable after a fall and cracks if sat upon, you cannot. Make the hardware bullet proof. Back when I used to work in retail, I was constantly amazed by the low build quality of some devices we sold. Companies like LG and creative would bring to market fantastic little machines, which would come back in such numbers that they must have actually lost money, never mind good will and reputation.

Now, go eat up the market.

Gigabeat Microsoft At Their Own Game

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Interesting! It appears Microsoft’s new Zune player is nothing more than a repackaged Toshiba Gigabeat. This from Wikipedia, by way of Gadgetell.

[Toshiba] “1089” and The Zune

Microsoft’s Zune is a branded version of the new “1089” model of the Gigabeat. Due to a very tight release schedule, Microsoft worked with Toshiba to modify the Gigabeat firmware, outer-casing and user interface…The Zune is identical to Toshiba’s 1089 model’s specifications… After the initial launch, Microsoft will take-over production and manufacturing of the Zune from Toshiba.

Hilarious. Despite reading about the Zune’s many glaring limitations [1][2][3][4], I’d managed to miss this. Microsoft didn’t even make the damn thing! This explains so much. Why Zune doesn’t integrate with Windows Media Player, doesn’t work with Windows Vista, and why it’s apparently so well designed (the crippling un-features are afterthoughts). Hardy har har, Microsoft can’t even build it’s own Mp3 player!

It does make you wonder why the hardware companies who produce these wonder machines don’t just go their own way and get them into the market. It’s an open secret that Apple didn’t design the original iPod, but instead adapted the design from a prospective product from a tiny company called Portal Player.

Another interesting line from the Wiki..

The Gigabeat line was chosen because of its tight integration with Windows Media Player and its support for the PlayForSure DRM standard.

Makes you wonder why the finished device doesn’t support PlaysForSure.